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Dr. Robyn Bourgeois


Dr. Robyn Bourgeois (Laughing Otter Caring Woman) is a mixed-race nêhiyaw iskwew whose Cree family comes from Treaty 8 territory (Lesser Slave Lake). She is an associate professor in the Centre for Women’s and Gender studies at Brock University, but is currently serving as the university’s acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement. As a survivor of multiple forms of violence, Dr. Bourgeois’ research examines violence against Indigenous women and girls, but also Indigenous women’s anti-violence leadership. In addition to speaking and publishing nationally and internationally, Dr. Bourgeois testified as an experiential and expert witness at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in October 2018. Along with being an academic, Robyn is an activist, artist, and  proud mom to three kids.

Check out last years Niagara Leadership for Women Speaker Lineup! We can't wait to announce this years speakers.

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Candy Ashbee

Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Candy is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience working with start-ups in the service and retail sectors. Her love of helping others build their dreams is what attracted Candy to the challenge of personal development. This love of a challenge has led her down many paths from working with a large multinational human resource staffing company, small start-ups (including 2 of her own), and a couple of not-for-profit employment centres. Candy was the 2013 recipient of the Venture Niagara Award, for entrepreneurial excellence. Candy’s personal journey of turning adversity into an opportunity for growth is what inspired her to coach. Empowering others to find and action their own unique sustainable path to happiness and success is what fuels her passion.

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Marcella Blanchard

Marcella was born and raised in the Niagara Region with matriarchal heritage of the Haudenosaunee Nation, Upper Mohawk First Nations 257, and belongs to the Turtle Clan. Marcella obtained Indian Status in 2000 under Bill C-3, an act to promote gender equity in the Indian Registration Act. Marcella is a graduate of Brock University with a Bachelors of Arts in Therapeutic Recreation and Psychology, and works as a Youth Navigator for NPAAMB Urban Indigenous Youth Employment and Training. She is an advocate for equal opportunity for Urban Indigenous peoples, sitting on the Family Engagement Committee and Barriers to Facilitation committees with Pathstone Mental Health, The Canadian Indigenous Youth Advisory Committee with Myability, and is a member of the Niagara Chapter Native Women’s Coalition. Marcella resides in Welland with her son, and is the last of her immediate family to reside off-reserve.

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Holly Bolvari

Originally from the small town of Simcoe, Holly is a Learning & Organizational Development Manager who is passionate about helping people grow, learn & tap into their strengths.

Caren Burt

Prior to starting C Burt and Associates in 2009, Caren spent over 25 years in the financial service sector in Branch Management and as Director of Human Resources. She is a certified coach through the International Coaching Federation and specializes in leadership and team coaching. Her mission is to help her clients discover their potential and take action in the areas most important to them.

Caren was a board member at the YWCA for 1 year and then president of the Board for 4 years after that.  She has served on the board for The Canadian Mental Health Association and committee member for the education and fundraising event “Women & Wellness.  Her greatest joy these days is her 5 grandchildren all of which are exceedingly interesting and bright.

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Julie Christiansen, MA

Julie is an award-winning international public speaker, author, and psychotherapist. Julie developed the Anger Solutions method of anger resolution and has authored several books about anger, stress, bullying, and coping with crisis. She has a deep love for the written word, and she is passionate about helping to leverage people into radical, positive, lasting change through her work. Known as “The Anger Lady”, She has appeared as an expert for various print, radio, and television media outlets. She has also consulted with various producers providing insight into their program content – including the Anderson Cooper Show, The Hunted, and Investigations Discovery. Julie is a two-time nominee finalist for the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards; she was the recipient of Niagara’s 40 Under 40 Award, and in 2015 received the Toastmasters Communication & Leadership Award. Her work in Anger Solutions coupled with her work in academia landed her on the list of the 40 Most Influential Forensic Psychologists. Julie has been married to her soul mate Stevan for more than 30 years. They reside in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada with two of their three children and their toy poodle, Forrest Gump.

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Lesley Clarke

Lesley is the Manager of Environmental Performance at Walker Industries where she’s responsible for developing and implementing management programs with a focus on regulatory compliance, permitting, training and auditing. Lesley has over 15 years of experience working in the environmental sector; beginning her career in environmental consulting as a field technician and progressing through to more senior roles. An informal leader by nature, Lesley has always been passionate about leadership and the journey to continue to grow herself by following a mantra of Know Thyself, Be Thyself, and Drive Thyself. Lesley thrives on sharing tidbits of her personal experience and knowledge gained to others along their leadership path. Lesley is a graduate of Fleming College and is a certified member of The Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists. She also holds a Professional Management Certificate from Brock University, a Strategic Management Certificate from McMaster University, and is currently working towards a certificate in Occupational Health & Safety from the University of New Brunswick.

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Stephanie Harper

Stephanie is a relationship builder, people leader, and change agent. Her 15+ years of experience includes talent development, recruitment, training, career education, and program management on the front lines and in management and leadership positions within a large, multifaceted organization. She has led both small and large teams, new initiatives, program expansions, and organization-wide projects that have helped support and connect the career development needs of post-secondary students with the evolving world of work. Stephanie values teamwork, collaboration, and different perspectives. Her colleagues would tell you she is a thoughtful, approachable leader and team member, exceptionally detail-oriented, and possibly the most organized person they know! She is also a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, volunteer, and mentor. Stephanie wears many hats in life and each has taught her something about herself that has shaped who she is today and given her purpose to work towards who she wants to be in the future.

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Sandra Leigh

Sandra helps smart, ambitious women build their confidence and reach their potential. As a Personal and Corporate Transformation Coach, she has had the opportunity to coach over 11,000 people.

Leela MadhavaRau

Leela has lived a life between cultures and countries, one of the few multiracial children born in 1960’s London (UK). Leela was taught she had a duty to work for justice and use what privilege she had for good. She came to Niagara in the 1970’s when “Where are you from” was one of the most common questions. She left Niagara to go to university where she engaged in advocacy and activism – the Anti-Apartheid Movement, developing sexual assault policies where none existed, raising the issue of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. Leela is proud to call herself an anthropologist. She career has been one of working to end oppression; transforming universities into institutions leading societal change. She wants all of us to be able to maintain curiosity and be independent thinkers. Understanding their responsibility in this regard has been inculcated in her four children, now ages 21 through 28.

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Venessa Magny

Venessa has over 7 years of experience in career education in post-secondary from working one-on-one with individuals to working with employers to create innovative recruitment strategies. She holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Ottawa, an HR Certificate from Humber, and CHRP certified. Having gone through her own challenging career transitions, Venessa realized more support was needed for mid-career professionals who were ready for their next step but not quite sure how to get there. She decided to start her own side hustle business called The Career Shop as a resource for professionals to find answers to questions they have. Venessa continues to work for Brock University in Career Education as the employer consultant and teaches Human Resources Management at Niagara College. She is also on the Board of Directors for the John Howard Society of Niagara.

Kristen Nilson

Kristen has spent the last 9 years working in higher education, supported by an academic background in Human Resources (BBA ’12) and Leadership in Education (MEd ’18). These experiences have all consistently had a student-centered approach for Kristen, which collided with her HR background when she began working as a Career Coach in 2017. Her coaching philosophy focuses on providing clients with the tools to be successful and empowering them to maneuver the job search process confidently, in relevant and relatable ways. Currently working in Experiential Education at Brock University, and a council member of NEXTNiagara, Kristen has a track record for fostering positive relationships within the Niagara community, to help develop the next generation of leaders, and support a wide variety of organizations within the region. During the pandemic, in addition to her day job, she co-founded The Career Shop to provide personalized career coaching to clients who may be established in their careers but are now looking for new opportunities.

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Mindi O’Brien

Mindi is a world-class athlete, fitness coach, wellness expert, and champion of health and lifestyle improvement. With over thirty years of hands-on experience, Mindi has been shaping the lives, minds, and bodies of women across the globe through proper nutrition, strength training, cardio, and supplementation protocols. Not only does Mindi talk the talk, she has walked the walk with a professional career on the illustrious IFBB stage, spanning multiple decades. With her experience as a professional Fitness, Figure, Physique, and Bikini Professional, coupled with multiple first-place and top 3 finishes, and appearances at the Arnold Classic and The Olympia, Mindi has equipped herself with the tools for success as both a coach and an athlete; mentally, physically, and spiritually. Her dedication to championing a healthy lifestyle has extended into her post-IFBB career, as she is now the promoter of two Bodybuilding Competitions in the Niagara Region.

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Cassie Ogunniyi

Cassie is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager for Niagara Region. In this role, she is working to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan for the Region as part of joining the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities. She previously held the position of Strategic and Health Equity Initiatives Coordinator at Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services, which involved leading the Health Equity Strategic Plan at the departmental level, and initiating the Health Equity Informed Planning project, which incorporates considerations of health and health equity into project planning across the corporation through Health Impact Assessments. She spent a decade overseas working and studying in six countries across four continents, which resulted in a PhD in Sport Management from the University of Johannesburg, a Master of Social Science in Practical Anthropology from the University of Cape Town, and a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in International Development Studies from the University of Toronto.

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Jessica Potts

Introducing Jess (or Jessica, or Mama to two great kids, a rescued terrier, and a 120lb Great Dane who thinks she’s a lap dog). Jess is a self-proclaimed French fry and guacamole connoisseur, and is always finding subtle ways to tell you if you have something in your teeth. Professionally, Jess is a speaker, author, success strategist, and coach, who helps leaders build their dream teams. She believes that leadership happens at all levels and her mission is to empower people to leverage their unique soft skills, strengths, and superpowers to live their most optimistic, productive, fulfilled lives. She is also a big fan of the YW and its work to empower women and families in Niagara to thrive 🙂

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Sarah Pritula

Forever a philanthropist. From a young age, Sarah knew she wanted to spend her time in the non-profit sector. She started by serving water and delivering meals at the GNGH in elementary school, and then became a Big Sister and mentor for a “Little”  through the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Sarah has worked to educate children about heart health with the Jump Rope for Heart program and now she leads an organization that provides lunches to over 1,500 children across 30 schools multiple days per week.

Leading Community Crew combines her two loves, working in the non-profit sector and building a business. Her team of staff, volunteers, and difference-makers are focused on the big vision of Community Crew, Providing Hope, One Healthy Lunch at a Time. They believe that every child across the region should have access to a healthy lunch throughout the school year.

When she’s not out raising funds, she can be found with her two boys and rescue puppy, Indie.

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Sonja Regier

For the last 44 years, Sonja has transitioned through stages of life that have knocked down any courage she may have had, but that has also fed that courage. As someone who’s lived with depression since 2012 and without cancer since spring 2021, Sonja has fought hard for her bravery and courage. These often horrible, chaotic, and traumatic parts of Sonja’s life have helped her recognize her own worth, shown her valuable silver linings, and allowed her to continue to make connections with others who are also trying to be courageous. Sonja is a mother, wife, friend, teacher, and recently a prospective political candidate. Within all these roles, she believes strongly in the value of people, human connections, and bringing out the best in a community. Sonja believes we can all be courageous and sometimes lead others without even knowing it.

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Aishah Sonekan

Aishah is an undergraduate student at Brock University in the Psychology Co-op Program with a minor in Business who is resilient, hardworking, driven, passionate about mental health, and advocates against discrimination against minorities. She began her certification as a Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner(NLP) at the young age of 16 and became fully certified as a Facilitator of NLP and Performance Consultant at the age of 19. She is a skilled radio and event host, workshop facilitator, and counselor for young adults. She is currently an executive member of 4 clubs at Brock University, including President of Leaders at Brock.

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Stacey Stemplowski-Wills

Stacey grew up in the Niagara Region and is strongly rooted in her passions. She knew from an early age that supporting individuals throughout their journeys was her calling.
After graduating from Brock University majoring in Women’s Studies and minoring in Communications, Stacey began her career in Social Services. She has gained experience from a wide variety of sectors including Domestic Violence, Mental Health, and Addiction. With this experience, she went on to obtain her Registered Psychotherapist (RP) designation.

Stacey has a strong foundation in wellness having gained certifications in both Yoga and Reiki. A core value in Stacey’s practice is to holistically support a person by weaving mental and emotional support in with their physical wellness.

Now through the combination of private practice and a strong connection within the yoga community, allowing and encouraging those to be their best selves is a strong mantra from within.

Her family including her dog and cat, bring a strong sense of Grounding Balance from which Stacey works from.

Brie Watson

Brie is an improv, stand-up, and sketch comedian, actor, live comedy producer & improv instructor based in Niagara and Toronto. She is the creator of Guess Who’s Coming to Improv? She co-hosts the Second City Training Centre’s Lockdown Jam alongside Janet Davidson, and is the co-founder of Improv Niagara. Brie is a respected improv instructor and has been on the faculty at The Second City Training Centre for seven years, where she has also taught stand-up comedy. She teaches the LOCK improv program at Improv Niagara and delivers corporate workshops with Improv Niagara and privately.

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Janet Westbury

Janet resides in Ontario, Canada where she has built her career within the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University. Her diversity stems from being both an educator and a health care professional. Currently, Janet is collaborating with the University of Global Health Equity, Rwanda, where she is the lead in creating a teaching excellence centre, the first of its kind in Eastern Africa. In this role, she brings over 20 years of teaching experience in higher education. Janet is fueled by building relationships; working closely with students, constantly collaborating with faculty and colleagues across the institution, all the while building community connections locally and globally. With a history of major events organization, Janet began collaborating with Canada Games in 2019 as Co-Chair of Medical and Co-Chair of Athlete Services for the Canadian Trials. Now Janet is part of the Mission Services Lead team for Niagara 2022. She has been honoured for her contributions in a myriad of leadership roles by being selected for the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference 2022. Janet truly believes that with leadership comes the responsibility to take action that will create change.